ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A protest has erupted in Pakistan after Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed an increase in rape cases for the way women dressed, notes that activists denounced that they perpetuate a culture of victim accusation.
Mr Khan made the comments on a live television show earlier this week when asked what the government was doing to curb the rise in sexual violence against women and children. Mr. Khan recognized the seriousness of the problem and pointed out the country’s strict laws against rape.
But, he said, women had to do their part.
“What is the concept of purdah?” he said, using a term referring to the practice of seclusion, wearing a veil, or concealing clothing from women in some South Asian communities. ‘It’s to stop the temptation. Not every man has willpower. If you keep increasing vulgarity, it will have consequences. “
The uproar was fast.
Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, an independent group, demanded that Mr Khan apologize for his comments, calling it “unacceptable behavior of a public leader”.
“This not only betrays a baffling ignorance of where, why and how rape takes place, but it also places the blame on rape survivors,” the group said.
In an effort to temper the anger, Mr Khan’s office released a statement on Wednesday saying the Prime Minister’s comments had been misrepresented.
“The prime minister spoke of the social response and the need to join our efforts to completely eradicate the threat of rape,” the office said in the statement. “Unfortunately, some of his commentary, consciously or unconsciously, has been distorted to mean something he never intended.”
Mr. Khan is under tremendous pressure to speed up justice for rape survivors after a series of assaults led to demand that the death penalty be applied in such cases. In December, the government passed a measure that said men convicted of rape could be sentenced to chemical castration.
There are few reliable statistics on rape in Pakistan, but rights activists say it is a seriously under-reported crime, in part because victims are often treated as criminals or blamed for the assaults. Thousands of protesters took to the streets last year after a top police official in the eastern city of Lahore said a woman who was raped on an abandoned highway was partly to blame for the attack.
To critics, Mr. Khan this week a misogynist who exacerbated the problem for women.
“Victims who blame and control the choice of women’s clothing are perpetuating the rape culture,” said Laaleen Sukhera, a Lahore-based author and public relations consultant.
“Everyone and everything seems to be blamed, except for the actual perpetrators,” she said.
Even Mr. Khan’s first wife, Jemima Goldsmith, a wealthy British heiress, weighed in on Twitter. “The problem is not how women dressShe wrote in one post. In another, she said she hoped Mr. Khan had been misquoted because the man she knew had different opinions.
Before becoming Prime Minister, Mr. Khan was a cricket star and an A-list celebrity who had a glamorous figure and was known as a ladies’ man. He married Ms. Goldsmith in 1995 and they divorced in 2004. However, he became increasingly conservative in the mid-1990s after entering politics and has been accused of being overly sympathetic to the Taliban in recent years.
For women’s rights activists, Mr Khan’s comments this week were just the latest example of the challenge they face in finding support for their causes in a highly conservative society. Organizers of women’s rights marches on International Women’s Day last month said they have been accused of “vulgarity” for the pursuit of equal rights.
“It is already a huge challenge for women of all ages in public spaces in Pakistan, be it on the street, at work or in the digital space, even in their own home,” said Ms Sukhera, the author in Lahore. “Regressive preaching prevents women from reclaiming what is rightfully theirs, and should be addressed.”